Up until today, I had never seen a grass snake in real life before. Never ever, and that was hard to believe. I am not at all ashamed to say that this was something which had deeply frustrated me at various times in my life – and frustrated others who I’d gone on and on about this to – seeing as every nature-loving person I knew and know of seems to have seen at least two of them (I have one friend who once accidentally saw one sunbathing nonchalantly in a bush. In a bush! He didn’t even like grass snakes – for him they seemed to be merely a source of amusement! In fact he seemed to resent grass snakes somewhat and I still have no idea why. Until I found this out I didn’t even know that resenting grass snakes was possible. Oh, what I’d have done to resent just one mere grass snake…).
Far from my reach, the grass snake was only to be found on Countryfile, Springwatch, or sometimes, in dreams where I believed I had finally found one, only for it to actually prove itself to be a twig (and a twig partially covered in dog-muck at that. I hated those dreams, I really did…).
For the following reasons, me going my whole entire 32-years without having seen one single grass snake makes absolutely no sense:
1: I’m one of those irritating people who loves nature so much that he can get absurd pleasure from the simplest of things, such as gazing at an inconsequential sunset while the entire world drives on by. I have always needed to see a grass snake, you see. In fact, I know it sounds ridiculous but I’ve always believed that this much passion for nature means I’ve always deserved to see a grass snake! But perhaps I am deluded.
2: In my time, I’ve taken excessive measures and gone well out of my way multiple times to locate grass snakes. I have traipsed fields and I have wandered many a nature reserve. I’ve even climbed over fences at various nature reserves in an attempt to get to the bits that the nature reserve owners don’t want people like me to see, because it holds much too much excitement. I HAVE GONE WHERE GRASS SNAKES MUST BE. Yet still my expeditions have proved fruitless. What do you actually have to do to find a bloody grass snake of your own these days? (Note: it doesn’t count if you’re so desperate and tragic that you have to hire a guide.)
3: 32 years of searching is a very long time indeed, whichever way you look at it. Obviously I didn’t start looking for grass snakes until I was about 8 or so, but still, more than two decades should be quite enough time.
When the grass snake did finally appear, it happened at both the best and worst time possible. The best because, at the time, I was on the phone to my girlfriend, thus enabling her to share in the wonder of the occasion, and the worst because, also at the time, my girlfriend’s mobile phone was running fast out of battery and set to expire at any minute. This put me in a serious quandary…do I only mention the grass snake’s appearance in passing, which doesn’t feel right at all considering just how special the moment was, or do I risk going into great detail about how the grass snake is sliding out from under the neighbour’s fence and slowly working its way into the dense undergrowth of our garden?
Obviously, being a grass-snake-maniac, I chose the latter. I had to take that risk. Even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything else.
“I’m going outside! I’m finding that snake!” I told Jen, as the grass snake vanished into the bushes. Out the back door at speed I went, hoping that there was enough time for me to get outside and locate the snake’s whereabouts and share all this before Jen’s phone died its death. I was optimistic.
“Can you see it yet?” Jen was saying, and I was saying “not yet, I’m just hunting for it now, I’m in the bushes, I’m deep in the bushes!” and then it happened. Jen’s phone went and died.
I’ll be honest: knowing that Jen’s phone was now probably unreachable, and that it had likely cut-off not due to my chin on the screen but due to the lack of battery — the old chin-on-the-screen thing haunts us all, does it not? — the first thing I did was stash the phone in my pocket and continue my great-grass-snake-hunt. After all, this was highly time-sensitive: there just wasn’t time to muck about.
I searched and I searched, but five minutes later, after looking as intensively as I could – the bushes in our garden are formidable – the search was over. Given the grass snake’s unbeatable manoeuvres, there was no other conclusion. I considered for a moment the other possibilities for tracking the wondrous creature down (taking into account that it could so easily have slid back under the fence, and that all this might be for nothing). One of them involved sending our greyhound Jojo in to the small, dark, impenetrable places where an inflexible grown man could not easily reach, but this idea had to be quickly abandoned. On a number of counts it just wasn’t practical. For one, it would be hard to communicate to Jojo that I wanted to locate the whereabouts of a grass snake, and for another, even if I had been able to do so, chances are that Jojo’s animal instincts would have taken over and, had she found the creature, she’d have ripped it to pieces rather than bring it out delicately into the open.
So I went inside and tried to call Jen but I couldn’t, because her phone was well and truly expired. Sad as I was that Jen hadn’t been able to revel in the moment with me, at least I had seen a grass snake finally!